Star Wars: the Old Republic, I love you. You let me play a video game where I can swing a lightsaber and throw down purple lightning. You let me do this in either a solo, “me and my NPC companions against the universe” way or in a group with friends and strangers. For this I am eminently grateful. As we all know, this heap of adoration is the softening of the harsh words I’m going to have next.
The Cartel Market is great. The Free-to-play experience, on the other hand, is a giant clusterbomb of fragmented, unnecessarily restrictive locks and bars at every turn. Case in point, and the biggest row raised by the community yet, is the restriction on artifact gear. Every hard mode flashpoint, every operation, and every PVP strata (ok, both of them) aim at getting players into artifact gear. Normal mode flashpoints drop artifacts as well. There’s no carrot here. There’s no incentive to re-run content. It will become stale and pointless eventually. What will happen when F2P players become intimately familiar with the workings of a flashpoint, and don’t need to collect Tionese or Columi commendations because they’re pointless? Maybe they will go on to PVP. Just buying access won’t help, as it takes a secondary purchase (and a much more expensive one at that) to use gear.
There’s a problem with that. In PVP, even with the Mk2 blue recruit gear, it’s a woefully unbalanced system for non-force healers. Force healers only have some balance in blues because the bubble / self-heal / hot / direct heals / aoe / bubble rotation is highly effective. Free-to-Play players will enter PVP, get ridiculously bagged and tagged, and not have the hope of getting decent gear in which they can become competitive both because of the artifact restrictions and because of the time it will take with the limited number of runs available. Right now, gear outweighs skill between War Hero / Recruit matches in a big way. Frustrated with that, perhaps they will go to Space Missions. Again, just buying access won’t help. It does sound reasonable to restrict the number of runs on the surface, I admit, until you look at the overall game balance and realize that players will get burned out long before they can earn gear to become competitive. Even with pass purchases, it’s a difficult situation, as players are now playing for no reason except to get enough points to be able to buy artifact gear, which they must pay cartel coins to be able to wear. It will be hugely frustrating.
Who are we kidding there? No they won’t. It’s a fun mini-game, but that’s all it is. Even with more content, it’s still just a fun mini-game. There’s no story there, and the rewards are less than can be gleaned elsewhere.
That pair of restrictions is also just the tip of the iceberg… Banking restrictions, mail restrictions, and other quality of life restrictions are (collectively) over the top. Yes, there need to be restrictions in place so that the Free-to-Play player is incentivized to buy and spend cartel coins or to subscribe. Each restriction, on its own, is not so bad. Sum them up, however, and I nearly had a face-palming, head-banging-into-keyboard conniption trying to play up a new character with no points in the bank. Well, ok, I had points in the bank, but I didn’t use them in order to simulate what a brand new player would feel like. Overall, it was a decent experience up until level 10-12 range, when the inventory started getting full on every mission, and I found myself spending more time running back to sell things than actually experiencing the story that makes Coruscant more than just a pretty place.
I will remain as a subscriber because, as one, I feel that I get a lot for my money beyond just the most awesome Star Wars game since KotOR. My teenage son is probably not coming back to the game, however. He stated that it’s because of the restrictions and how much it would cost to enjoy the story on his three twenty-something-level characters, even with account unlocks. If I were an unsubscribed player, I wouldn’t come back either. Whatever reasons I might have had for leaving would still outweigh the overly restrictive gameplay and double-billing for top-end gear. Even without those concerns, if I did come back, I just wouldn’t be kept interested – there are so few carrots out there that incentivize re-subscribing and too many sticks that make me feel whipped into it. Subscribing needs to be a free, and frankly, happy choice rather than a “bullied into” requirement.
Again, I love this game. I want it to be successful. I’ll pay my money until the Emperor Force-chokes the life out of me. I just don’t think the SWTOR-style of F2P can compete with Guild Wars 2, with its unlimited PVP, its relatively unrestricted quality-of-play mechanics, and wide array of PvE content for the one-time price of$60. I don’t even think it will compete favorably DDO and LOTRO, which have embraced the 1970′s method of selling role-playing games – small modules of content that cost a few bucks delivered regularly. I make this prediction – the number of players will jump through the roof next week. The activity will be VERY high for three months. The revenue will roll in. And, just like launch, after those three months revenue will tank as the active player count falls.